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The Degradation of the International Legal Order? The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics, Bill Bowring, Routledge-Cavendish, 2008

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Bill Bowring’s book attempts to argue for a Marxist account of international law that embraces it as a tool for progressive politics and revolutionary change. He argues it is necessary to give a substantive account of both, locating them in the real struggles of the oppressed. Specifically, he locates human rights in the three great revolutions ‐ the French, the Russian and the anticolonial. However, this revolutionary heritage has been ‘degraded’ by recent events. As such, it is necessary to adopt ‘revolutionary conservatism’, invoking international law’s origins against its current degradation. This review argues that, owing to international law’s indeterminacy, Bowring’s project is susceptible to imperial appropriation. This means, however, that Bowring cannot give an account of why we should use international law. It then argues that Bowring’s account of Pashukanis is wrong, and that Pashukanis’s work can better make sense of Bowring’s insights and international law more generally.

Affiliations: 1: MPhil/PhD Candidate London School of Economics, Email:


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